There’s a reason a strenuous outing makes you desire a greasy mound of meat: it has a lot of what your body needs. This we learned from talking to six Outside writers and editors about their greatest aprés-adventure burgers, and by unpacking their stories with the help of two registered dietitians. As it turns out, most of us are underfed when we head into the wild, and the result is a deep hunger for carbs, protein, and fat. Which means that, physiological speaking, a burger delivers.
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Maren Larsen: From Outside Magazine, this is The Outside Podcast.
Listeners, fire up your grills! Today, we're talking burgers.
For our last episode before we take a much-needed end-of-summer break, we're talking about the burger after a camping trip, or a marathon, or a long day of paddling or cycling or climbing. The salty, greasy, cheesy burger you've been dreaming about ever since your snacks ran out. The burger that, seasoned with hunger and exertion, you swear tastes better than anything you've ever eaten.
I cooked up the idea for this episode at the end of a recent hike with a bunch of my coworkers. Someone said, "ya know, I could really go for a burger right now." And we all immediately started drooling. And then, on our way to dinner, we got to talking. Turns out, the powerful craving for a burger after an outdoor adventure is an extremely common phenomenon for a lot of people–even for those among us who rarely desire burgers or even seldom eat meat at all.
Sensing a story, I did what any good journalist would do. I downed a hard seltzer and grilled my colleagues about the best apres-whatever burgers they'd ever had.
Ben Tepler: Name: Benjamin Tepler. Title: gear editor for Outside, Inc.
Best burger I think would be after I hiked the Timberline trail, which is the circumnavigation of Mount Hood in Oregon. I did it alone and I had like, there's like one really sketchy river crossing and the water was just like so high. It was like, it was so much glacial melt and the water was like up to my chest and it was too deep to do alone, but I did it anyway. And like the sun was like, it was so hot and you were like so high up. And I was like, ‘I'm gonna die of exposure. I'm so cold and hot at the same time.’ And I like climbed up the Sandhill, like scree dune at the end of it.
And I knew that there was a bar pub at the Timberline lodge where I was ending. I was like, I gotta, I gotta make it to the burger.
And I made it and I rolled up and I looked like, just like hot garbage, cause I had been hiking for, I think four days. and like my feet were caked in like sand and scree.
And like, I was just so sunburned and just disgusting. And I sat down at this bar. And I was just like, ‘give me, give me a burger with cheese, make it like, rare, like bloody.’
And they were like, ‘okay.’ And I think they were kind of used to people showing up on the trail like this because they didn't kick me out, but they did seem kind of unhappy with my state and they ate it and it was just incredible.
Like I don't, I think it was a fine burger, but it was just like, so good. Like so bloody and like so much char on the outside and like really well salted. And the cheddar was kind of sharp and like melting into the crags of the burger itself. And the bun was buttery and plush, like a butter pillow. And, uh, yeah, I think that was it. Then I was relatively comatose and drove home.
Maren: Ben's story offers a prototypical example of the post-adventure burger craving, from the mid-trek longing to the unparalleled pleasure of actually devouring the thing. Your craving might not look exactly like his–maybe you want something a bit more well-done, or a turkey burger– but you get the idea.
Before we get into more burger stories, I want to bring in a couple experts who are going to help us get to the meat of the question here: What is it about the post-adventure burger that calls to us, and should we heed its call?
Abby Chan: My name is Abby Chan. I am a registered dietician. I'm the co-owner of Evolve Flagstaff, which is an integrated facility that works mostly with athletes, and specifically in my clinical practice, I work with athletes and eating disorders.
Alyssa Kyber: I'm Alyssa Kyber. I'm a registered dietician nutritionist. I work primarily with eating disorders, or people who are just trying to improve their relationship with food and don't know where to start.
Maren: The first question that I have for both of you is what is your hypothesis in terms of why burgers would be such a common craving among people who are doing these, you know, intense outdoor activities.
Alyssa: Burgers are very easy to access all of your macronutrients and it includes salt. and it's really highly palatable. So highly palatable is something that most of the times we would refer to as something that kids might like, but it's really just something that tastes delicious.
And if you haven't been eating while you've been out moving your body, um, having those little like glucose gels or eating some candy, your body is probably really energy deficit after a long hike or a long run or doing something outside in the heat sweating for a really long time. So kind of what I thought initially was that it's all three macronutrients, it's handheld, it's delicious. And it's got that salt that our body needs after sweating for so long.
Maren: Alyssa's hypothesis fits with what most of my colleagues suspected was going on in their bodies. Burgers pack a punch of carbohydrates, protein, fats, and salt that is almost irresistible when the outdoors have been kicking your buns all day.
But as Abby points out, those macronutrients are just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.
Abby: I definitely wanna second the aspect of a lot of times, if people are outside, they may not be feeding themselves enough either before the activity or especially during the activity.
There's a few things that happen. in our bodies when we are moving. So when we think about the nervous system, we have our sympathetic state, our stress state, and then our parasympathetic state, which is like our rest state. And so when we are moving our bodies or if we even have the anticipation of moving our bodies, what this is gonna do is it's gonna put us more in a sympathetic state, and so this will decrease our body's ability to pick up and pay attention to those hunger signals because our adrenals are going to release an increase epinephrine during movement, and that's going to decrease our hunger signals. And this makes a lot of sense because thinking way back historically, if we were in a state where we had to fight or get away from something it's really, really inconvenient for your body to be like, ‘hey, it's a great time for a snack right now.’
So I think that's one aspect that I work a lot on with my athletes of looking at okay. I understand that you're not hungry, but that doesn't mean that you don't need to eat. So that's where I find that a lot of people end up being under fed. And then at the end, once we start to come down out of that movement space, that's when those hunger cues will start rushing in and telling your body, like, we need something right now.
Maren: In other words, when you're in a post-adrenaline pickle, you don't just *want* a burger, you need a burger. This is a feeling that Outside's senior running editor Jonathan Beverly knows very well.
Jonathan Beverly: I've been a marathoner since 1980 and every marathon training season when I get into the hard, long runs. Yeah, you've already, you've already done a 50 mile a week and you put in a 20 mile and the last five miles inevitably, you're fantasizing about the greasiest juicies burger you can get, which is not something I normally fantasize about. And usually I go get it and it was as satisfying as I had imagined.
It's not a regular part of my diet. But it is, it is something that it has to be physiological because it, it, it compels you that this is, this is what you need right now.
Maren: Jonathan is right about the physiological part. Making burgers a regular part of your daily diet isn't great for you or the planet.
But, according to Abby, when we've been physically active and burning fuel, the carbs in a toasted sesame seed bun and the protein and fat in a juicy beef patty are exactly what we need.
Can you kind of like break down what a burger brings to the table in terms of nutrition and like what those components would do for a post exertion body?
Abby: For sure. So let's even just talk about like, what is a macronutrient versus a micronutrient?
A macronutrient is something that we need in large amounts and it will provide calories and energy. I'll use those words interchangeably. So all of your macronutrients are carbs, protein and fat. All your micronutrients are all of your vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, things like that.
And so when we think about macronutrients, carbohydrates are gonna be essential for, not only like blood sugar, right? And it's, our body is preferred in every cell, preferred source of energy. really essential for our brain. Our brain utilizes a ton of carbohydrates, and so do our muscles. So every single muscle contraction, and if it's more powerful or through an endured period of time, it's gonna be utilizing more carbohydrates and glucose.
Alyssa: And Abby correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the quote unquote wall that like runners or endurance athletes hit isn't that technically where our body says, all right, there's no more glucose, this very easy energy source. Now we gotta start converting muscle and using protein.
Abby: Basically. Yeah. So bonking or hitting a wall, whatever you wanna say, is typically due to decreased glycogen availability in your body. Like again, like kind of tapping out, our body's really smart. Um, so even if you are someone who's like following a lower carbohydrate diet, your body's gonna find a way to make glucose.
So your body can definitely the next macronutrient that's easiest to break down, and turn into glucose is protein. Granted, whenever we are making things in our body that aren't easily accessible or that it has to go through these different conversion steps. It's an expensive process. So we're using energy to make energy. In this case, if you're in an under fed state, or in a fasted state, or you're just not taking any enough, this is typically in B from your lean muscle mass and tissue, which is not ideal. and yeah, again, a very expensive process physiologically.
Alyssa: And that's really the importance, Maren, of fueling during sport as well. So having those glucose packs, right, so that our body doesn't have to go so deep and so far into that super energy expending process of converting other body tissues into energy.
Maren: Totally. This makes so much sense, honestly, because I feel like in my personal adventure burger craving experience, the part that is like the most acute for me is like the last, like two miles of like a 14 or 15 mile hike
I'm probably out of snacks, And like now I'm like, oh my God, like dreaming about a burger and where can I get one so this makes a lot of sense, actually.
Alyssa: Yeah. And our body likes to make sense. That's something that we, we're always trying to outsmart our bodies and we're always trying to always figure out what it's doing, but in reality, like our body has years and years and years, like our ancestors developing these habits, our body knows what it's doing and trying to outsmart it most of the time is just a recipe for postponing our body for doing the thing it was gonna do already. It can be like, ‘okay, like weird human brain that's developed in this fashion that thinks they cannot outsmart this very long lived body. Try to do that. And. We are gonna get our needs met.’
So even if you try to push that salad after one of those hikes, you're not gonna feel satisfied.
Maren: So are you saying that you should listen to that craving and just eat the burger.
Alyssa: Big old yup! Big old yup.
Maren: What I think I hear Alyssa saying is: if your body is telling you you need a burger, don't let anything stand in your way.
My colleagues are going to be so happy to hear that.
Steve Potter: My name is Steve Potter and I'm a digital editor at Climbing Magazine. In October, 2020, I was climbing out in lake Tahoe and a group of friends of mine. And I decided to go visit this pretty seldom visited collection of boulders called Lego land. and it's pretty seldom visited largely because the, the boulders are huge and the approach is about five miles each way. but we decided we were hard men and we would go do it. And so we, uh, we got up very early in the morning and drove out there and only to realize that the approach road was also closed, which was gonna tack an extra two miles each way onto the voyage.
But we decided to do it anyway. And, by the time we arrived at the boulders at 11 or so, I'd already eaten all my food, and drank most of my water.
But, we still had a really good climbing day, ended up trying this pretty epic boulder problem called Guardian Angel that's like 30, 35 feet tall. And there's this, you know, long 5’11, 5’11 plus outro section that you know is pretty scary to do without a rope when you're really in the backcountry. So it was, it was really fun and I ended up sending it, after a lot of work. right. As it was getting dark, you know,but then we had to hike out and it was, you know, not too bad at first, but as, as we went, you know, I was carrying two too big packs and my back’s started to cramp.
And by the time we got to the road, which is uphill on the way back, my dog had just decided to call it quits. And so I had to carry my dog too. And, uh, I was, I was in serious pain, like cramping all over the place. and when we finally got home, you know, it's freezing, we'd been talking about burgers for eons. We kept just talking about how we were gonna have a burger. When we get home, we're gonna have a burger when we get home.
We realized that the grill didn't have any gas in it. So we fired up the stove and cooked them in a pan and it was fucking excellent.
Maren: After the break: I ketchup with my colleagues for more burger stories. And, our experts tell us that it's not you who wants that burger; it's the animal inside you.
Maren: If you just survived an epic and it feels like a salad isn't gonna cut the mustard, dietitians Abby Chan and Alyssa Moukheiber say that you really should cave to your bacon cheeseburger desires. Because the more you try to outsmart your cravings, the louder they'll get.
Abby: Hunger is not a conscious thing. Like we think that we have willpower and autonomy, but honestly, when we think about it, it's like our body is made to survive.
If it's in a fasted state what that does psychologically and physiologically is that it actually makes food that much more enticing to our brain and that much more rewarding. What this is gonna do is that this can only last for so long and our brain can only hold out for so long until we basically just like blow it. And because our body and our brain is in that restricted state. It's gonna try to get as much as it can in that feasting mode.
Alyssa: Our bodies are our animals, right? Outside of that frontal cortex that we humans have, like, the rest of us really is an animal and trying to outsmart it really doesn't help. So that I feel guilty for eating this burger now, and so I'm maybe gonna try to go double down on my diet so that I don't have to, feel guilty anymore.
And then you end that next hike or that next, really long bike ride feeling super depleted, feeling super deprived. Cuz maybe you didn't bring those extra snacks cuz you were quote unquote so bad for eating that burger last time. And then we end up, what, eating the burger again, not because of a lack of willpower, but because it's just what our body needs.
Maren: Right. Well, and even if you have a really healthy relationship with food and you're not feeling those guilt signals, it makes sense that these like longer activities would create scarcity just by the nature of the activity as well.
Abby: Yeah. And I think that another common pitfall for a lot of outdoor athletes is because a lot of the endurance foods marketed towards an outdoor athlete, that's like packable non-perishable, typically these things are gonna be pretty sweet.
And so I find that a lot of times people are packing these things and like, they actually don't like them, so they don't eat them, but they're like, I have it. And I'm supposed to have it. I know that. But I'm like, ‘did you eat it?’ And they're like, ‘no, I don't really like this type of bar or whatever.’
I was like, ‘well then what are you doing toting it around.’ Like, this is not weight training here. Like, you need to be able to pack things that you actually enjoy eating.
Because if you're out there because you have decreased hunger cues, you have decreased hunger sensations and signaling. So it's like if there isn't something that is also pleasurable to you that you enjoy, you're probably most likely not going to eat it.
Alyssa: Food you don't eat, doesn't nourish you.
Maren: Yeah, totally.
Abby: If it's like the sweet factor or things that you don't actually like, it's like finding things you do, like, like pack chips with you. If you like things that are salty, I will typically boil like a bunch of little baby potatoes and put salt on 'em. You can even boil 'em in vinegar, and water. And then it's like salt and vinegar chips that's delicious.
Abby: Yeah, you can like, like make salty, savory rice crispy treats, which are super fun.
Alyssa: I love peanuts and rice crispy treats and like salted peanuts.
Maren: Yeah, for me, it's cold pizza is like the number one thing. And it's like easy to pack and easy to eat.
Abby: So good.
Maren: Talking to my coworkers made it clear how important it is to pack snacks that you'll actually eat on an adventure. No matter how well prepared you think you are, the wilderness can always catch you by surprise.
Kira: Kira Kennedy. I am the photo editor for Outside Magazine. And my burger story. This was actually last weekend and me and my best friend of 20 something years.
We decided to go to Great Sand Dunes together. Kind of in the middle of nowhere. and the first night we camped in this, kind of, it was a, it was bad placement. The placement was bad of the tent and so we barely slept, our tent ended up blowing over. It was an absolute disaster and we get to great sand dunes. Neither of us check the weather.
So, we get to the top of the sand dune, the highest sand dune in North America. Hail, full hail storm. Raining, wind, sand blasted. Amazing. I mean, you know, a really amazing exfoliation in a lot of ways.
And we're coming to we've, we've run down the dune and we're like, this is probably pretty bad. She's a park ranger, mind you. So both of us are like, ‘wow, we've really blown it.’ Outside magazine employee, park ranger, totally exposed to the elements. And so we get back to the car finally. I mean, out of breath, drenched, completely soaking and we're like, let's go to McDonald's and, um, yeah best burger.
Maren: So what other kinds of foods do you think would fulfill this same? craving or niche? I also talk to a few people and they're like, I don't really have the burger one, but I always really want pizza. And it sounds to me like that's kind of the same thing.
Like high carbohydrates. Some protein. Some salt. Some sugar. Does that sound like it's also kind of that same, it's the same sort of craving, just a different target basically.
Abby: Yeah. I think a lot of this is gonna depend on like, what, what foods are you used to? And like either, like, what are your cultural foods? What are things that maybe you have also this association with that, like, after I do this thing, this is either a tradition in our house that we all like as a family or as friends, we all go out to this one place. Right? So I think it's gonna be very dependent based on that cultural conditioning as well of like, what is satisfying to you and also what brings you together in community? I think there's that aspect of like doing something hard and doing something difficult and then having that reward afterwards.
Maren: The post-adventure burger doesn't have to actually be a burger, and it isn't just about refueling macronutrients and replenishing salt. It's also about celebrating your efforts, often with your friends. And whether that happens around burgers, or pizza, or tacos, or curry, it can become a time-honored ritual. Just ask Outside's VP of content strategy, Micah Abrams.
Micah Abrams: There’s a bar in Alma, Colorado called the south park saloon and I should, I should actually step back and explain.
I'm talking about the nineties. It was a really long time ago. At this point, the place is probably like a Four Seasons. I have no idea. I haven't been in a long time. But in the nineties, nobody went to Alma. And nobody went to the South Park Saloon and the burger at the South Park Saloon is phenomenal. And I know this because after a day of skiing in Breckenridge, and this is probably 1994, maybe. And it was a typical, perfect day of Breckenridge. It was about eight below with wind. The snow was awful and we just spent the entire day getting 35 mile an hour winds just blasted into our face. It was just exactly what you want from a day at Breckenridge. and so by the end of that day, everybody was, you know, having that carnivorous urge that you get at the end of a long day.
And we were driving back to Colorado Springs. And we went by the saloon. Everybody was like, I don't think I can, I can't make it to commerce, but it was like a two hour drive to Colorado spring. So like, should we go in there and like, and we had no idea we'd never been there before
And they had burgers and we didn't, we, we were like, ‘well, I'm hungry, you're hungry. Okay. Let's, let's get burgers.’
And honestly, God, this is the best burger I had in my life ever to this day. I've never had a better burger. and so it became like a, a tradition. Like we would only drive home the long, or actually that route from Breckenridge after a long day of skiing to have the burger, because eating a burger, restores you in a way that all of the expensive crap they tell you're supposed to buy to restore yourself doesn't do. The burger does it.
Maren: But you don't always have to drive out of your way to hunt down the perfect patty. With hunger as a special sauce, any burger can be the best one of your life.
Chris Keyes: My name is Chris Keyes. I'm the editor-in-chief of Outside Magazine. And my first ultra was in Carmel valley and I bunked twice, barely made it to the finish line, was in tears. And the only thing I wanted was a big Mac. And that's about all I can remember, except I think I had two big macs. Best burger I've ever had.
Alyssa: To me, that sounds like someone who's in a, not maybe a starve state, but like an energy deficient state being provided a highly palatable food. Right? And we're also running this high from moving our bodies. And then suddenly all of those things coming together in perfect harmony might bias someone's memory in saying like, ‘oh my God, that was the best one I ever had.’
Abby: Again, we are animals. So eating food should be a pleasurable thing. And what will happen is because when we do eat food, it releases dopamine, it releases serotonin. So we get this like wash of feeling good because if food wasn't pleasurable, humans would not exist as a human race. Simple as that. Like we, if the one thing we need to survive, wasn't that interesting, then we wouldn't continue to be here.
Alyssa: I've heard it compared to sex before in the past, by some sex therapists that like the things that require to keep our species alive, food, sex, all those good things. It has to be pleasurable.
Maren: That totally makes sense. So your brain is trying to guide you towards the things that will keep you alive. And in the case of the post adventure burger, you should listen.
Maren: New survival tip, certified by Outside Magazine and expert dietitians: listen to that growling in your stomach, and eat the burger.
This episode was written and produced by me, Maren Larsen, and edited by Michael Roberts. Thanks to Abby Chan and Alyssa Moukheiber for speaking with me. You can follow Abby @AbbyTheRD or @evolveflg across all socials and Alyssa on instagram @bodypeacerdn. And thank you to all my colleagues for telling me their cheesy, double-stacked, delicious adventure burger stories.
If you have a tale of your favorite post-adventure ritual, record it as a voice memo and email it to us at email@example.com. And if you're enjoying this show, leave us a review wherever you listen, or tell your friends about us between bites of your next adventure burger.
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This is our last episode before a two-week late-summer break. We'll be back with a new episode September 14.
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Outside’s longstanding literary storytelling tradition comes to life in audio with features that will both entertain and inform listeners. We launched in March 2016 with our first series, Science of Survival, and have since expanded our show to offer a range of story formats, including reports from our correspondents in the field and interviews with the biggest figures in sports, adventure, and the outdoors.